AZERBAIJAN: Leyla and Arif Yunus finally out of the country to receive urgent medical treatment

Press release

Geneva-Paris, April 19, 2016 - Human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus were today allowed to travel abroad to receive urgent medical treatment after almost two years in jail and house arrest. The Observatory (OMCT-FIDH partnership) now calls on the Azeri authorities to permit other human rights defenders recently released to receive urgent medical care abroad.

Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) and a member of OMCT General Assembly, and Arif Yunusov, Head of IPD Conflictology Department, had in November and December 2015 respectively been assigned to house arrest after spending nearly one year and a half in jail. Today, they were finally allowed to travel to The Netherlands, where they could reunite with their daughter, before going to Germany to receive urgent surgery and medical treatment for severe chronic conditions.

"We are delighted that Leyla and Arif Yunus were at last allowed to travel abroad to receive life-saving treatment. But we once more condemn the Azeri authorities for this slow decision and hold them responsible for the deterioration of their health condition during their arbitrary detention. Their sentences should also be quashed"

OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock

Arif Yunusov suffers from hypertension, and Leyla Yunus from hepatitis, diabetes, pancreatitis and gallstone disease, which only got worse during her detention. Yet, on February 11 and March 11, 2016 respectively, the Yasamal District Court of Baku and the Court of Appeals in Baku had denied the Yunus couple permission to temporarily leave the country to receive urgent medical treatment due to their suspended prison terms.

Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov were arbitrarily detained for nearly one year and a half and sentenced to 8,5 and 7 years of imprisonment respectively on August 13, 2015, following a procedure that grossly disregarded international standards of fair trial and due process. The Observatory reiterates its position that their conviction had no legal grounds and merely aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities. On December 9, 2015, their sentence was commuted to a release on probation for five years.

"The authorities of Azerbaijan should now allow other human rights defenders who were recently released to receive urgent medical care abroad, including journalist Rauf Mirqadirov and human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev. The Azeri authorities should also release journalist Khadija Ismayilova immediately and unconditionally."

FIDH Honorary President Souhayr Belhassen

The Observatory more generally calls on the Azeri authorities to conform in any circumstances with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as international and European standards such as the European Convention on Human Rights and to put an end to all forms of harassment - including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders in the country.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this partnership is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.

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